Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Opposition to city trash-to-energy plant grows

Frank Jackson calls it part of his sustainability efforts. Opponents call it a polluter. They'll have it out over the new few months.

Cleveland's plan to build a waste-to-energy facility on the West Side looks like it'll lead to a serious battle, with both sides claiming they're defending the environment.

Protesters hit City Hall last night, trying to stop the plant. (See NewsChannel 5's coverage here.) Councilman Brian Cummins predicted it'll never be built.

The Jackson Administration wants to heat trash and turn it into energy using a technology popular in Japan called gasification. The mayor traveled to Japan last year to look into it. He touts it as part of the city's plan to reach a goal of "zero waste" by 2019. He argues it'd be better for the environment and the city's budget than the current practice of dumping trash in a landfill near Canton.

"If I don’t have to pay a $7 million dumping fee and all the fuel it costs to get a garbage truck to the dump and back, not only have I dealt with being environmentally friendly, because I’m not putting something in the environment, then I’m also saving millions of dollars," he told me last month.

Opponents refer to the plant as an incinerator. They think the new technology will pollute the air as conventional trash-burning incinerators do.

Dennis Kucinich came out against the plant this month (and three days later, claimed he was leading the opposition to it). Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern, touting his sustainable-restaurant credentials, just wrote a letter to Jackson opposing the plant. It's an interesting moment -- a Cleveland chef trying to leverage his growing celebrity into influence.

"The process will greatly increase the amount of soot, carbon monoxide, and mercury that our community ingests daily," Sawyer argues.

Jackson still has to convince a skeptical city council. I wouldn't be surprised if opposition lines up much as it did against Jackson's failed LED lighting plan.

Both ideas were originally promoted by businessman Peter Tien. Scene ran a good story last month that poked holes in Tien's plans and credentials. Now, after giving him a $1.5 million contract to design a gasification plant, the city is seeking informational bids from other plant designers instead.

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